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Lacoochee Elementary faculty to be dismissed for school overhaul

LACOOCHEE — The faculty of Lacoochee Elementary School, including the principal and assistant principal, will be dismissed in June, an unusual step that is part of a state-imposed overhaul.

The school, which serves Pasco's most impoverished community, is expected to receive its third consecutive D grade this year.

State law provides some options for turning around a chronically struggling school, including hiring a management firm, converting the school to charter status or closing it. Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning and his leadership team decided to restaff the school instead. It would mark the first time that a Pasco County school would see its faculty overhauled since state and federal accountability rules took hold in the late 1990s.

Officials in the Tampa Bay region's other districts — Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando — could not recall taking a measure so severe in any of their school systems under the accountability rules.

The remedy is fairly uncommon in Florida, although not unheard of. Miami Edison Senior High, for instance, had all its staff reapply for their positions in 2006 as part of its turnaround plan after receiving two consecutive F's.

Other Pasco schools, such as Cox and Hudson elementaries, have undergone less stringent restructuring plans when they faced sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind rules. Hudson Elementary and Fivay High also received D's for the past two years, but no turnaround plans for those schools have been released as of Tuesday.

Assistant superintendent Amelia Larson informed Lacoochee's 23 teachers of the pending dismissals Tuesday, and the school sent home letters to parents.

"That doesn't mean that everybody is being fired or that everyone is being displaced," said Lynne Webb, president of Pasco County's teacher union. "But everyone will have to reapply" if they want to return to the school.

Support staff, such as cafeteria workers and custodians, would not be affected.

"This turnaround plan is going to include some significant changes," Browning wrote in the letter to parents. "However, in the end, everything we are doing is designed to benefit the students so that they will be college, career and life ready."

The district's plan for Lacoochee states the school will not rehire any of the reading and math teachers "unless they are highly qualified and effective instructors, defined by students achieving learning gains … over a three-year period." The new principal will have a "clear record of turning around a similar school."

To entice high-performing teachers to the school, the district plans to offer incentives around $2,500 for the first two years, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The rural school serves a high-poverty community in which 95 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The school also is heavily minority and has a large Spanish-speaking population.

Its grade rose from D in 1999 to regular A's and B's from 2003 through 2009 before declining again. In recent years, despite the D grades, student performance has shown growth, and the school climate has been rated well by teachers and parents.

Principal Shirley Ray said Tuesday's staff meeting was emotional, but everyone understands that they must follow Florida law.

"We have to do what's best for the kids," Ray said. "We do have staff that will be reapplying for their positions."

So, too, will Ray.

"If my teachers have to do it, I am the instructional leader. I understand I have to do it as well," she said. "I don't want to let this job go. I love it."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Lacoochee Elementary faculty to be dismissed for school overhaul 04/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 9:18am]

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